Build a Modern Bookshelf from Plywood


Hi, I'm Zoe

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January 26, 2021
Zoe Hunt

This post was sponsored by Minwax. All opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I may earn a small commission, but it wonโ€™t cost you a penny more)! Click here to read our full disclosure.

midcentury modern bookcase painted blue in center

We’re not just building an everyday bookcase here. Sure, it’s practical and still holds plenty of books, but we’re elevating it to a new level. Compartments for decor and organization make this bookshelf fun, but what I think really takes it up a notch is the color.

Did you notice that stunning greenish-blue in the middle of the bookshelf? It’s the Minwax 2021 Color of the Year: Vintage Blue!

It’s a perfect harmony of green and blue that leaves me feeling calm and peaceful, as if I just let out a big ol sigh of relief. And what’s extra cool is that adding color doesn’t mean we have to give up the natural wood grain.

Minwax color stains allow you to add in fun colors without losing the texture of the wood, which makes even a simple bookcase feel unique and luxurious.

Alright, let’s start DIYing! 


What You’ll Need

How to Build a Bookcase

New to DIY? Download our free 5 Steps to Getting Start with DIY guide!

close up of geometric bookcase


Cut your plywood according to the cut list found in the printable plans. It’s important to keep the grain direction in mind while cutting each piece. Luckily, the visual cut list accounts for this ๐Ÿ˜‰


Pocket holes are the foundation of most DIY furniture. Become a pocket hole pro in less than an hour in Pocket Holes: Explained.

Drill 5-6 pocket holes along each side of the back and 3 pocket holes the two short ends of the bottom.

drilling pocket holes into plywood

If you want the back of your bookcase to be free from pocket holes so that it doesn’t always have to back to a wall, you can skip the pocket holes here. You’ll install the back using the same technique we use to attach the top and shelves.


Dry fit your pieces and determine which edges are going to be visible (hint: one shelf on all of the shelves, one edge for the top and bottom, 2 edges of the side pieces). Then apply your edge banding to those sides.

cutting excess edge banding with band it edge trimmer

If you haven’t used edge banding before, it’s super simple, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind for lasting results. Check out our step-by-step tutorial on apply edge banding.


Sand all of your plywood with 220-grit sandpaper before moving onto the next step.

Want to DIY buy don\'t know where to start? Click here to grab your free guide!


staining supplies and cans sitting on plywood

Apply Minwax Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. Simply wipe it on, let it soak in for 1-5 minutes, and wipe off the excess.

Then wait 15 minutes and sand everything again with 220-grit sandpaper. Wipe the wood with tack cloth to remove any dust and debris that may be left on the surface.


As I mentioned earlier, for this bookshelf we’re using the 2021 Minwax Color of the Year: Vintage Blue! It’s a perfect balance of green and blue with gray undertones. The nostalgic vibe is perfect for this mid-century modern bookshelf.

But before we dive into staining Vintage Blue, we’re going to stain the outside a second, coordinating color. We went back and forth between a classic White Frost, a warm Amber, or Carbonite. Ultimately, we decided on Carbonite to frame the bookshelf.

We stained the 4 outward facing boards and the 4 front-facing edges with Minwax Wood Finish Solid Color Stain in Carbonite.

I can’t get enough of the solid stain line because you get a nice solid color while maintaining the gorgeous texture of the wood. It’s also so easy to apply!

Brush it on and then use a synthetic pad to wipe off the excess stain. Work in small sections–you want to wipe it off within 2 minutes of applying!

Once I stained the outward-facing pieces, it was time to tackle the edges. You want to be really careful to not get the stain on the other side of the board.

To help prevent stain from getting on the soon-to-be Vintage Blue side, I added some painter’s tape before gently staining the edge. Immediately remove the tape after staining and wipe off any stain that bled through with a wet paper towel.

staining edge of plywood with staining pad

After letting that side dry for about an hour and a half, I flipped everything over and grabbed my shelves.

It’s time to stain everything else Vintage Blue! Once again, I opted for the Solid Color Stain finish. I love that I can get a solid color without sacrificing the wood texture. The strong oak wood grain always adds a feeling of luxury.

If you don’t want quite so solid of a color, Vintage Blue is also available in the Semi-Transparent Wood Finish Water-Based Color Stain line. It’s a beautifully unique wood finish!

applying blue solid stain with Purdy XL paint brush

Once you’ve finished staining, wrap your stain pad with saran wrap and place it in your fridge. This will prevent the stain from drying on the pad and will allow us to reuse it for touch-ups at the end.


Start by securing the bottom to one of the sides using glue and pocket holes. Then we’ll attach the back.

attaching side of bookcase to bottom with screws

Secure the back to the bottom and side using glue and pocket holes. Then add the second side with glue and pocket holes.

For the top, we won’t be using pocket holes. Instead, we’ll countersink screws through the sides and then cover the screw head with oak plugs.

To do this, grab your Kreg drill bit (the one you use to drill pocket holes) and set the collar 13/16″ from the tip of the bit. This will give you a consistent stopping point when you start drilling.

setting stop collar on Kreg drill bit

Add glue to the edges of your top and drill the countersink holes using your Kreg drill bit through the sides. We opted to do 3 screws on each side, but 2 should be plenty.

countersinking holes to attach top of bookcase

Grab your 1.25″ screws and screw them into your countersink holes.

Add a drop of wood glue on the end of an oak plug and press it into your countersink hole to cover the screw head. If it’s a tight fit, use a mallet to hit the plug flush with the rest of the wood.


All of the shelves will be attached to one another using the same method we used to attach the top: countersinking screws then filling the hole with oak plugs.

Before attaching anything with screws, place your shelves inside of the bookcase and mock-up the spacing to make sure everything fits.

Once everything is looking good, we’ll assemble everything in two parts: the top 3 pieces and everything else. You have to assemble them in sections before putting them in the bookcase because the bookcase doesn’t leave enough room for your drill.

Start with the top three pieces. The spacing and length of each shelf can be found in the cut list.

Attach each piece using 2 screws. Once you have the three pieces assembled, place them in your bookshelf and attach them through the side and top of your bookcase.

If you don’t want any wood plugs on the top of your bookshelf, you could opt to drill through the back instead of the top.

I wish I had a magic tip on where exactly to screw your holes, but I don’t. It really just comes down to accurately measuring. Make sure to double (or triple) check your measurements before you start to drill into the side or top of your bookcase to secure the shelves!

Once you have the first section down, repeat the process with the bottom section. Assemble everything outside of the bookcase and then install it to the top section and the outside of the bookcase.

Free download wood sizing cheatsheet


Since we added some oak plugs, we’ll need to stain them to blend in a bit more. You can also stain your plugs before putting them in your bookcase.

Grab your staining pads from the fridge and stain the plugs. Make sure to blend the stain with the rest of the bookcase.


Attach legs to the bottom of your bookshelf using .75″ screws.


Once everything is assembled, it’s time for the final step: sealing! My go-to sealer is Minwax Polycrylic.

For this bookshelf, I used the aerosol version–that’s always my preference when my project has a lot of nooks and crannies!

As your spraying your Polycrylic, remember to keep moving and to apply light coats.

make this bookshelf with arrow pointing to midcentury modern bookcase

There you have it! Now you know how to build a bookcase from a single sheet of plywood.

That means it’s time for the fun part: figuring out exactly how to decorate it!

Love Color of the Year trends? Check out these other Color of the Year projects!

side view of DIY bookshelf with geometric shelving
side view of DIY bookshelf with black exterior and blue interior
bookshelf with geometric shelving
Want to DIY buy don\'t know where to start? Click here to grab your free guide!

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